Research education coordinators

Central to a vibrant research culture in a department is the position of a research education coordinator (REC, or postgraduate coordinator or graduate convenor) (Boud et at., 2014; Brew et at., 2017).Their tasks are multifaceted, but typically fall into three spheres: influencing students, influencing supervisors and influencing institutional/local academic policy or practice (Boud et at., 2014). In terms of influencing students, the REC is often the first point of contact, dealing with enquiries and applications. Often they coordinate the arrival of the candidate and arrange orientation into the department. They may also be the organiser of research and social activities for candidates, and importantly are the ‘go-to’ person for candidates needing advice.

Regarding influencing supervisors, RECs can support and mentor new supervisors, help to improve poor supervisory practice, organise activities for supervisors, maintain a supervisory register, ensure cover when supervisors are absent and liaise with central educational development units and/or the Graduate School for supervisor development (Boud et at., 2014, p. 446).

Finally, regarding influencing the institution, Boud et at. (2014, p. 447) noted that RECs may convene a committee overseeing research candidates in the department, have authority to sign off on paperwork, work to improve the practice of supervision, work with directors of research groups to help organise structured activities for candidates, contribute to student seminars or organising student workshops and be a member of the board of the university Graduate School.

At the University of Otago, most departments have nominated RECs and their activities are mainly focused on influencing students. They may also assist the head of department to support supervisors, and often chair a graduate research committee. Importantly, each division has a ‘super REC’ - an Associate Dean Postgraduate - who undertakes approvals of paperwork for research candidates in their division, often chairs a division-wide graduate research committee and is a key member of the central graduate research committee, which oversees the activities of the Graduate Research School. An annual initiative run by the GRS is an REC Forum, to which all academic and administrative staff supporting graduate research candidates are invited. These events attract over 60 staff and provide a rich environment for sharing best practice, updating staff on new policy and networking. The GRS also sends newsletters approximately quarterly to all RECs to ensure they are up-to-date with new initiatives and issues concerning graduate research candidates.

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